The deadline for petitioners to intervene in Entergy Arkansas Inc.’s $167 million rate case filing closes today (Tuesday, June 23), one day after the state Public Service Commission (PSC) staff suggested that the Arkansas Sierra Club does not have proper standing to participate in the proceedings.
On Monday afternoon, the PSC commission staff responded to the Sierra Club’s June 10 petition requesting to intervene in the rate case, saying the state environmental group had not demonstrated how the issue of increasing residential electricity rates was not adequately represented by other parties in the docket. The full three-member PSC has yet to rule on the Sierra Club’s petition.
“Sierra has not demonstrated why a rate increase would financially impact its members in a manner any different from a financial impact to all other residential ratepayers that are already not represented by CURAD (Consumer Utilities Rate Advocacy Division of the Office of the Arkansas Attorney General) and staff,” PSC Staff Counsel Dawn Kelliher Guthrie wrote in a six-page response.
The PSC staff’s response came after Entergy Arkansas and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge formally opposed the intervention request of Sierra Club, arguing that the AG’s office would adequately represent the interests of the environmental group. The Arkansas Electric Energy Consumers Inc. and Evergreen Packaging Inc., which are intervenors in the case, also filed a joint response opposing the Sierra Club’s participation in the rate case.
In its 19-page filing on Monday, Entergy Arkansas said the Sierra Club’s petition does not satisfy PSC regulations, saying “any purported interest of Sierra Club and any of its members who may be residential customers of EAI is adequately represented by one or more of the existing parties.”
“Sierra Club intents to litigate issues that are currently pending in other dockets where it failed to intervene and to re-litigate issues that have already been decided in other dockets by the commission or another agency,” wrote Entergy’s legal team.
The consumer division of the AG’s office also filed a brief response opposing the Sierra Club’s petition. “At issue is EAI’s request for a general increase in rates and tariffs, as well as implementation of a formula rate plan,” wrote AG Rutledge. “This is not a case seeking approval to build a power plant or site transmission lines, which have clear impacts on the environment. An environmental organization cannot have an unrepresented interest in a rate case, as required by (PSC regulations).”
SIERRA CLUB ESCALATES SPAT WITH AG’S OFFICE
On Monday afternoon, the Sierra Club took issue with the AG’s response, say Rutledge did not oppose the intervention requests of any of the other groups approved to participate in the case, or the pending application of Arkansas Advanced Energy Association (AAEA).
“The Arkansas Sierra Club has every right to represent our Arkansas members in this case, and we intend to do so. Attorney General Rutledge’s attempt to selectively stifle public participation in this important matter is exactly the wrong approach for a public official to take,” said Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the nation largest environment group. “Out of numerous intervenors, she has chosen only to oppose the Sierra Club’s participation. I’m not sure what she’s afraid of, unless it’s our proven ability to intelligently represent the positions of our Arkansas members.”
The Sierra Club’s response to Rutledge continues an escalating brouhaha between the AG’s office and the Arkansas environmental group. Earlier this month, Hooks mocked Rutledge’s intervention in a federal case brought by several states to thwart President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
On June 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out a challenge to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial regulations that would cut existing power-plant carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 30% by 2030, saying the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was prematurely filed before the federal agency had drafted final rules.
“(The) federal court ruling could have been predicted by a first-semester law school student. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge chose to challenge a draft form of the Clean Power Plan, choosing for her own political reasons to not even wait until the plan was final before suing,” Hooks said in a news release.
SIX INTERVENORS OK’ED TO PARTICIPATE IN RATE CASE PROCEEDINGS
To date, the list of current intervenors in the Entergy rate case include Arkansas Electric Energy Consumers Inc., the Federal Executive Agencies (FEA), grocery giant Kroger’s Co., the Hospitals and Higher Education Group (HHEH), Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Evergreen Packaging Inc.
Wal-Mart was approved on June 10, the same day that the Sierra Club filed its petition. The PSC staff agreed to the nation’s largest retailer application after PSC commissioner Elana Wills noted on June 1 that she is second cousin to Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores.
“I do not maintain a close family relationship with Mr. McMillon and I believe that I am fully capable of rendering a fair and impartial decision in this proceeding, and therefore, do not believe there is any basis for disqualification,” Wills said in the filing. Neither the PSC staff nor Entergy Arkansas brought any objections to Wal-Mart’s participation in the rate case.
Also, Memphis-based Evergreen and HHEH, which represents the University of Arkansas board of trustees acting on behalf of the University of Arkansas system, Baptist Health and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, was quietly approved to intervene in the case on June 16 without any objections from Entergy or the PSC staff. Evergreen operates a packaging and coated paper manufacturing mill in Pine Bluff.
The AAEA, which represents companies that manufacture, install or use utilize renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuel components, also requested to intervene in the rate case on June 18. As of today (Tuesday, June 23), the PSC staff had not commented on AAEA’s request to intervene.
“The AAEA petition is pending and has not been approved,” PSC Executive John Bethel said, adding that the PSC staff is reviewing the request and other interested parties have 10 days to respond to the application.
According to Bethel, the “next steps” in the proceeding will be for the PSC staff and the other parties to continue the investigation of Entergy Arkansas’ application.
He said the procedural schedule then calls for direct testimony from the PSC staff and the other parties on Sept. 29, followed by rebuttal testimony from Entergy Arkansas on Oct. 27. Counter testimony from the PSC staff and the other parties to Entergy’s reply will then take place on Nov. 24, followed by a final response from the state’s largest electric utility on Dec. 10.
Once all the interested parties have had a chance to respond to each party’s testimony or rebuttal throughout October, November and December, the PSC staff, intervenors and Entergy Arkansas officials must submit any settlement proposals to the commission by Dec. 31, 2015.
A public evidentiary hearing on Entergy Arkansas’ rate filing request will be held January 19, 2016, at the PSC’s headquarters in downtown Little Rock. Additional public comment hearings will be conducted in Batesville and El Dorado on Jan. 26 and Jan. 28, respectively.
In its 137-page filing in late April, the state’s largest utility makes the case to recover $167 million in new revenue that it said is largely driven by costs to upgrade the power grid and purchase the 495-megawatt power plant Union Power Station near El Dorado for $948 million in December.
If approved, the adjustment would change the monthly bill of a typical residential customer using 1,000 kilowatts per hour (kWh) by nearly $13.00 or 45 cents a day. The case is filed under PSC docket 15-015-u.